Chocolate Milk: Good Or Bad For Kids? This week the Milk Processor Education Program, in partnership with the National Dairy Council launched the campaign "Raise Your Hand For Chocolate Milk" to get support for the sweet beverage to stay on school menus. But some experts say, chocolate milk's extra calories will just help kids pack on the pounds. Host Michel Martin talks to Dr. Keith Ayoob, pediatric nutritionist for the Albert Einstein Medical Center, to discuss the case for and against chocolate milk.
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Chocolate Milk: Good Or Bad For Kids?

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Chocolate Milk: Good Or Bad For Kids?

Chocolate Milk: Good Or Bad For Kids?

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(Soundbite of music)


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, Red Bull, Monster, RockStar - energy drinks are the go-to beverage for club goers and college students and the occasional journalist facing a deadline. But now, an anti-energy drink is being marketed to urban use that promises a mellow time. But some critics are sounding the alarm about a new drink called Drank. We'll tell you why in just a few minutes.

But first, a different kind of beverage, one that most school kids are happy to see in the lunch line but that is leaving some parents and nutritionists cold -namely: chocolate milk. Some school systems are considering taking chocolate milk off the menu at the urging of nutritionists who say children just do not need the extra calories and sugar, and they will drink plain milk if it is offered.

But now, the milk industry has struck back. This week, the Milk Processor Education Program and the National Dairy Council have launched a new campaign titled "Raise Your Hand For Chocolate Milk." Theyve enlisted celebrity moms like Rebecca Romijn, as well as a group of their own nutrition experts to press the case that chocolate milk is just as healthy as plain white milk.

(Soundbite of TV commercial)

Ms. REBECCA ROMIJN (Actress, Model): I like chocolate milk, and I know my girls will, too. It's a great way for them to get all the nutrients that go with it. That's why I'm raising my hand for chocolate milk.

MARTIN: That was, of course, Rebecca Romijn.

Joining us now to talk more about this are Keith Ayoob. He's a pediatric nutritionist at the Albert Einstein Medical Center. He has been a consultant to milk industry. And also with us, Marlene Schwartz, deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University.

I welcome you both. Thank you for joining us.

Dr. KEITH AYOOB (Pediatric Nutritionist, Albert Einstein Medical Center): Thanks for having me.

Dr. MARLENE SCHWARTZ (Deputy Director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Yale University): Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: I'm not going to ask you all what you had for breakfast this morning. Whether its

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: chocolate milk or plain milk. But Marlene, I'm going to start with you and ask why do you want chocolate milk tossed off the school lunch menu?

Dr. SCHWARTZ: Well, I think what's important to realize here is that milk absolutely is an important part of children's diets, and I am certainly not anti-milk. But we know from research that weve done and others that children will drink plain milk. And the WIC program - which is the Women, Infant and Children program in the United States - does not support the use of chocolate milk. Head Start centers, preschool centers around the country all serve plain, white milk. And what weve observed is that the children will drink it.

So the question is, if children will drink regular milk when they're three and four and five years old, why is it that when they enter kindergarten, suddenly we think oh, no, they're not going to like it anymore and we introduce something that's significantly higher in sugar and calories?

MARTIN: Mr. Ayoob, before I ask your perspective on this, we mentioned that you have been a consultant to the milk industry. Can I ask, were you a paid consultant, and how recently?

Dr. AYOOB: Yes, I was, and it was last year. And I would also - well, I was actually asked to give them, along with some others, just sort of what I would call scientific counsel because of what I do in my normal day life. I'm an associate professor of pediatrics, but I also am a clinician. And after I hang up, I'm going to see patients all day. And so I'm very, very attuned to the issue of childhood obesity.

I have been sort of fighting it on a long-term basis for the last 25 years here. So I'm, you know, I fully understand the issue of extra calories and things like that. What I dont really understand, however, is that there's a lot of evidence that shows that kids who drink - and we're talking about low fat chocolate milk or fat free chocolate milk, okay? We're not talking about anything else here.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Dr. AYOOB: Is that when kids have the choice, they will often chose chocolate milk but theyll also drink more milk. Theyll not only drink more in the way of, you know, theyll chose chocolate milk but kids who drink chocolate milk, also drink more white milk. And we know that about seven out of 10 kids have diets that are deficient in calcium.

And I guess what I also noticed, and whats happened in New York City, is when the districts here in the Bronx pulled chocolate milk off the menu, they found that there was a reduction in milk consumption by 10 percent. And thats concerning, because extrapolate that over the course of over the whole of New York City, which has 1.1 million kids, that would be 110,000 kids, who arent going to drink milk.

And Ill tell you, we need to think of this - not in terms of what goes on at the school day, but I think of it what happens after the school day is over. Because what I see, is when they come and sit in the waiting room here, is that when kids dont drink milk at lunch, not only are they not likely to get enough calcium for the day, but theyre also not going to get eight ounces of fluid. Theyre not going to get eight grams of protein. And theyre going to end up the school day more hungry and more thirsty.

MARTIN: So youre weighing the balance, youre saying on balance, it is still worth it to keep chocolate milk on the menu.

Dr. AYOOB: And not only my words though but this is specifically outlined in the dietary guidelines.

MARTIN: Okay okay, hold on a second. Im going to let Marlene respond a bit. Im going to ask Vivien Godfrey, the CEO of the Milk Processor Education Group, told us that most kids chose chocolate milk over plain milk. And she says that in the absence of chocolate milk, theyll chose to drink juice, soda, or water rather than plain milk.

So, Marlene, youve also done studies on children and their food choices, what about that?

Ms. SCHWARTZ: Well, what we found in our research, is essentially children drink whats served. And so, sure, if you put chocolate milk next to plain milk, a lot of children will chose the chocolate milk. Of course they will, because its higher in sugar and it tastes sweeter. I think the key is to really promote the drinks that you want them to be consuming. In this case it would be plain milk.

And in terms of the research, when Ive looked into the research on this, what I found in, you know, articles published in the journal of the American Dietetic Association last year that looked at national data, is that when youre looking at small children, the vast majority of them actually are exclusively plain milk drinkers.

So, I dont think were talking about the majority of children overall. And I think what this campaign is really about - its about the sale of chocolate milk in schools. And I think whats motivating it is not a lack of calcium in childrens diets, but rather the fact that 58 percent of the chocolate milk sold in this country is sold in schools. And I think theyre worried about losing that part of the market.

MARTIN: Well sure sure, that sounds plausible but the fact is what about what Mr. Ayoob said that - that a lot of the kids were getting their best nutrition at school, theyre not going to get the other stuff at home. What about that? Dont you find that (unintelligible).

Ms. SCHWARTZ: I think weve

MARTIN: Wait a minute, let Marlene respond to it and then Mr. Ayoob, Ill come back to you, briefly.

Ms. SCHWARTZ: My point is that, I think weve painted ourselves into a corner. Its just like with the soft drinks in the schools or with high sugar cereals in the schools, that they are already used to these extremely sweet beverages, and these, you know, sweet cereals. And so, of course, when you take them away theres going to be an adjustment period.

So, I am not surprised that, you know, consumption might have gone down, slightly, when they were taken out of the schools. But its almost like we need to retrain children.


Ms. SCHWARTZ: Weve, you know, sort of fallen into this trap of just adding sugar to everything to their cereal, to their milk - and then were surprised when they have a preference for high sugar food.

MARTIN: All right, I gave you the first word. I am going to give Mr. Ayoob the last word. Mr. Ayoob, what about that? I mean, why not just offer the best choices and teach kids to chose that?

Dr. AYOOB: And that sort of a root canal approach, but I have to say that the amount of sugar thats in chocolate milk, or that amount of sugar that kids get in chocolate milk accounts to about two or three percent of the sugar that they get. And if we left out the less, you know, the more junkie drinks that kids drink, that would pretty much remove the vast majority of sugar.

Now, the dietary guidelines specifically cited flavored milk as a way to use some extra added, what they call discretionary calories, to drive the consumption of more nutrient rich foods like milk. So, its a good way to spend those extra calories that we all know kids are going to have to have on some level.

MARTIN: Its an interesting discussion and we thank you both so much for your work in this area and for talking to us about it. Keith Ayoob is a pediatric nutritionist for the Albert Einstein Medical Center. As he mentioned, he has previously been a paid consultant to the milk industry and he was kind enough to join us by phone from his office in New York.

Marlene Schwartz is the deputy director of Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. And she was kind enough to join us from the studios at Yale University. I thank you both so much.

Ms. SCHWARTZ: Thank you.

Dr. AYOOB: Thank you.

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